On Peterson vs. Chomsky — Socialism and Marxism:

Noam Chomsky, we can probably agree, is a brilliant intellectual. I sympathize with the anti-authoritarian aspects of his general outlook. However, I do take issue with his views on socialism (particularly as he describes it at the end of the first clip). What I see here, and what I have seen in my college experience is a major disconnect between abstract theories and real-world developments. I am intrigued by left-wing critiques of capitalism (as well as non-Marxist critiques such as those of Thorsten Veblen). The Intellectual Dark Web has quite a few left-libertarians in it: Eric Weinstein, Bret Weinstein, Heather Haying, and (depending on how one defines the IDW) Tim Pool. Eric Weinstein has made compelling cases for an increased role for government, arguing against both Ben Shapiro and Dave Rubin in political discussions. I would argue that those on the left should focus more on municipal government while emphasizing libertarian position at the federal level. A local-centric, bottom-up approach is perhaps the best way to create and maintain any kind of social safety net. As a Libertarian, I have my doubts. However, empowering local government at the expense of top-down systems and unwieldy bureaucracies is very much beneficial to communities and individuals.

Back to the first clip. It appears that Peterson offers a genuine critique of how things actually turned out. I would argue that a better source for the conflict between socialists who actually sympathize with the working class and those who just hate the rich would be the works of George Orwell. Orwell was sympathetic to socialism himself but went out to try to understand the lives of the working poor in England. His Road to Wigan Pier offers a compelling analysis of working-class people and what they actually believed. Camille Paglia has recently called out the snobby academic leftists like Judith Butler who claim to care about the oppressed but are more interested in maintaining their multiple homes and luxury lifestyles. I saw similar examples at Rutgers — Marxist and socialist professors living in expensive areas of NYC or near the ocean in New Jersey only arguing for the plight of the working classes in the theoretical realm of the classroom.

Jordan Peterson would be better served by examining the history of political ideologies going back further. Modern identitarian politics was born out of the French Revolution as was modern socialism. His focus on twentieth century examples has many benefits but also lacks the timespans that historians would like to see. When asked about the impact of the French Revolution in the nineteenth century, Marx supposedly responded by saying that it was too soon to tell. I would argue that one runs into this problem if one only focuses on history within living memory.

I would argue that Peterson is spot on in his brief critique of the French intellectuals in the first clip. Having studied Lacan, Derrida, Foucault, Cixous, Butler and others, I can say that there is, at best, very little that they have to offer in terms of practical ways of improving the world. Foucault’s ideas are quite derivative as he was influenced by men who produced works of higher quality (such as Erving Goffman and Friedrich Nietzsche). All his talk about surveillance, studied by so many of college campuses, has done nothing to stop the growing bureaucracies on campus. Nor has it served as a sustainable critique of the growing power of Silicon Valley tech companies and the vast amounts of data they collect on individuals. Foucault also understood little, if anything, about history before the eighteenth century. His work seems to be a reaction to the situation in France just after the war (in which France was essentially a country allied to the Nazis with only a small opposition and government-in-exile under De Gaulle).

Here are two brief critiques of developments in academia over the past few decades:

“The Derrida and Lacan fad was followed by the cult of Michel Foucault, who remains a deity in the humanities but whom I regard as a derivative game-player whose theories make no sense whatever about any period preceding the Enlightenment. The first time I witnessed a continental theorist discoursing with professors at a Yale event, I said in exasperation to a fellow student, “They are like high priests murmuring to each other.” -Camille Paglia

“If you say something crazy you will be deemed crazy. But if you create a collection of, say, twenty people who set up an academy and say crazy things accepted by the collective, you now have “peer-reviewing” and can start a department in a university. Academia has a tendency, when unchecked (from a lack of skin in the game), to evolve into a ritualistic self-referential publishing game…In some areas, such as gender studies or psychology, the ritualistic publishing game gradually maps less and less to real research, by the very nature of the agency problem, to reach Mafia-like divergence of interest: researchers have their own agenda, at variance with what their clients, that is, society and the students, are paying them for. The opacity of the subject to outsiders helps them control the gates.” -Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Skin in the Game (2018)

I will watch the rest of the videos when I have the time. With that being said, I would still maintain that the real discussion with regard to politics needs to be one which focuses on the authoritarian vs. libertarian rather than the simple right vs. left narrative that dominates popular media outlets.

On Peterson and Trump: This is an area we strongly disagree. I have seen no evidence that Peterson dog whistles to justify the politics of Trump. Peterson is a classic liberal not a conservative. Admittedly, as I have said previously, he leans a little more toward the conservatives with regard to leftist violence/censorship on campus but is clearly not a supporter of Donald Trump. I’m sure Trump supporters take clips of Peterson as intellectual justification for specific policies but there is no reason to suggest that Peterson approves of, or even knows of, all the various ways in which this happens. If my memory serves me correctly, Peterson called on Kavanaugh to resign if confirmed (a Twitter comment for which he received much backlash).

On Alt Right: This term has had many different meanings in a short period of time but is increasingly associated with authoritarian ethno-nationalists. Peterson is on record as having referred to the Charlottesville Alt-Righter as ‘pasty-faced morons.” He has also argued that playing the game of identity politics from the right or the left is dangerous and, ultimately, a losing game.

On borders: There is much to discuss and many nuances with regard to a borders discussion. Peterson has spoken about the necessity of borders but, to my knowledge, has said nothing in support of Trump’s border wall. Popular political discourse seems focused on the Scylla of Trump’s border wall and Charybdis of open borders. Eric Weinstein offers a better alternative: xenophile-restrictionism — that is, a position in which one can recognize and appreciate other cultures while understanding the necessity of maintaining a reasonable border policy. I have written on that topic here: Some thoughts on Xenophile-Restrictionism.

On Women and Oppression: There have been cases of oppression but, Peterson’s point, the idea that the history of women is simple one of oppression is ridiculous. Most men, for example, did not have the right to vote until the twentieth century. I could go on and on here but, for the sake of time will move on.

On Environmentalism: There is talk that Peterson is a climate change denier when, if fact, he has merely expressed skepticism toward both the language being used and the politicization of environmental issues. He has also critiqued the models being used. Peterson is supportive of Boyan Slat and entrepreneurial attempts to improve the environment. Here I think Peterson is opposed to smug leftists who advance politicized agendas under the guise of claiming to care about the environment rather than genuine and practical solutions to environmental problems. He has recently spoken to Bjorn Lomborg about making the world a better place in practical ways.

On abortion: This is a topic which, whatever your view, will be controversial to a large number of people. Peterson’s view on this topic is clear morally but I do not believe he has spoken about how the law should be applied. Other members of the Intellectual Dark Web have expressed a variety of views here: Dave Rubin is begrudgingly pro-choice, Ben Shapiro pro-life, and many of the left-libertarians seem to be more on the pro-choice side. Most of the people in my college colloquium courses leaned pro-choice. My views are closer to those of Dave Rubin. I fail to understand why abortion could be construed as morally right, only that it is necessary in certain contexts.

On socially-enforced monogamy: Peterson has argued the importance of this based on the fact that this has existed in all stable societies. He has also stated that this is not an excuse for using the state to give women to ‘useless’ males (it was Peterson himself who referred to incels as useless in this context). Nellie Bowles’ NYT article referring to Peterson as the ‘custodian of the patriarchy’ seems to have started the whole ‘enforced monogamy’ controversy. The NYT has published pieces using the term previously (as pointed out by Eric Weinstein) and the term itself is one used to refer to maintaining monogamy as a social norm which has contributed to stable societies throughout history. It is an anthropological term. Bowles knew this and created a controversy out of nothing. Peterson stated in a follow-up that this was a minor part of his much longer interview with Bowles. The NYT really undermined their own credibility publishing an article of such poor quality.

On your last point. I was on the left as an undergraduate and moved toward a conservatarian pragamatic position in the acrimonious environment of grad school. Thinkers like Thomas Sowell and Camille Paglia influenced me, as did the great innovators of the Renaissance (Petrarch, Valla, Bruni, Bacon). Jordan Peterson has much more in common with the majority of major public intellectuals of centuries previous. I admittedly have a major problem with ivory tower academics who focus on pontificating. The great innovations of history (most notably the Renaissance and Industrial Revolution) did not come about because of abstract theories. Rather, it was tinkering and creative exploration, networks, and coffee which fueled these developments. I would recommend the book Gifts of Athena by Joel Mokyr for more info on these processes as they relate to the Industrial Revolution. I would also recommend Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Skin in the Game which focuses on the importance of risk and consequences. Risk-takers are more likely than theoreticians to produce practical innovations.

I would end my emphasizing that the university is not a product of the Renaissance, nor the Enlightenment. It is a product of medieval scholasticism. I would further argue that the abstractions of postmodernists are the se-sanctified successors to those old medieval scholastic theologians who argued over how many angels could dance on the end of a pin.

Francis Bacon, who clearly understood the benefit of abstract knowledge, also warned against sanctifying reason at the expense of human nature: “To spend too much time in studies is sloth; to use them too much for ornament, is affectation; to make judgment wholly by their rules, is the humor of a scholar” (Of Studies, from his Essays (1625))

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